The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 5

‘No One Knows Anything About Him.’

Neither at dinner on that evening at Manchester Square, nor after dinner, as long as Mrs Roby remained in the house, was a word said about Lopez by Mr Wharton. He remained longer than usual with his bottle of port wine in the dining-room, and when he went upstairs, he sat himself down and fell asleep, almost without a sign. He did not ask for a song, nor did Emily offer to sing. But as soon as Mrs Roby was gone — and Mrs Roby went home, round the corner, somewhat earlier than usual — then Mr Wharton woke up instantly and made inquiry of his daughter.

There had, however, been a few words spoken on the subject between Mrs Roby and her niece, which had served to prepare Emily for what was coming. ‘Lopez has been to your father,’ said Mrs Roby, in a voice not specially encouraging for such an occasion. Then she paused a moment, but her niece said nothing, and she continued, ‘Yes — and your father has been blaming me — as if I had done anything! If he did not mean you to choose for yourself, why didn’t he keep a closer look-out?’

‘I haven’t chosen anyone, Aunt Harriet.’

‘Well; — to speak fairly. I thought you had; and I have nothing to say against your choice. As young men go, I think Mr Lopez is as good as the best of them. I don’t know why you shouldn’t have him. Of course you’ll have money, but then I suppose he makes a large income himself. As to Mr Fletcher, you don’t care a bit about him.’

‘Not in that way certainly.’

‘No doubt your papa will have it out with you just now; so you had better make up your mind what you will say to him. If you really like the man, I don’t see why you shouldn’t say so, and stick to it. He has made a regular offer, and girls these days are not expected to be their father’s slaves.’ Emily said nothing further to her aunt on that occasion, but finding that she must in truth ‘have it out’ with her father presently, gave herself up to reflection. It might probably be the case that the whole condition of her future life would depend on the way in which she might now ‘have it out’ with her father.

I would not wish the reader to be prejudiced against Miss Wharton by the most unnatural feeling which perhaps may be felt in regard to the aunt. Mrs Roby was pleased with little intrigues, was addicted to the amusement of fostering love affairs, was fond of being thought to be useful in such matters, and was not averse to having presents given to her. She had married a vulgar man; and though she had not become like the man, she had become vulgar. She was not an eligible companion for Mr Wharton’s daughter — a matter as to which the father had not given himself proper opportunities of learning the facts. An aunt in his close neighbourhood was so great a comfort to him — so ready and so natural an assistance to him in his difficulties! But Emily Wharton was not in the least like her aunt, nor had Mrs Wharton been at all like Mrs Roby. No doubt the contact was dangerous. Injury had perhaps already been done. It may be that some slightest soil had already marred the pure white of the girl’s natural character. But if so, the stain was yet too impalpable to be visible to ordinary eyes.

Emily Wharton was a tall fair girl, with grey eyes, rather exceeding the average proportions as well as height of women. Her features were regular and handsome, and her form was perfect, but it was by her manner and her voice that she conquered, rather than by her beauty — by those gifts and by a clearness of intellect joined with that feminine sweetness which has its most frequent foundation in self-denial. Those who knew her well, and had become attached to her, were apt to endow her with all virtues, and to give her credit for a loveliness which strangers did not find on her face. But as we do not light up our houses with our brightest lamps for all comers, so neither did she emit from her eyes their brightest sparks till special occasion for such shining had arisen. To those who were allowed to love her no woman was more lovable. There was innate in her an appreciation of her own position as a woman, and with it a principle of self-denial as a human being, which it was beyond the power of any Mrs Roby to destroy or even defile by small stains.

Like other girls she had been taught to presume that it was her destiny to be married, and like other girls she had thought much about her destiny. A young man generally regards it as his destiny either to succeed or to fail in this world, and he thinks about that. To him marriage, when it comes, is an accident to which he has hardly as yet given a thought. But to the girl the matrimony which is or is not to be her destiny contains within itself the only success or failure which she anticipates. The young man may become Lord Chancellor, or at any rate earn his bread comfortably as a country court judge. But the girl can look forward to little else than the chance of having a good man for her husband; — a good man, or if her tastes lie in that direction, a rich man. Emily Wharton had doubtless thought about those things, and she sincerely believed that she had found the good man in Ferdinand Lopez.

The man, certainly, was one strangely endowed with the power of creating a belief. When going to Mr Wharton in his chambers, he had not intended to cheat the lawyer into any erroneous idea about his family, but he had resolved that he would so discuss the question of his own condition, which would probably be raised, as to leave upon the old man’s mind an unfounded conviction that, in regard to money and income, he had no reason to fear question. Not a word had been said about his money or his income. And Mr Wharton had felt himself bound to abstain from allusions to such matters from an assured feeling that he could not in that direction plant an enduring objection. In this way Lopez had carried his point with Mr Wharton. He had convinced Mrs Roby that among all the girl’s attractions the greatest attraction for him was the fact that she was Mrs Roby’s niece. He had made Emily herself believe that the one strong passion of his life was his love for her, and this he had done without ever having asked for her love. And he had even taken the trouble to allure Dick, and had listened to and had talked whole pages out of “Bell’s Life”. On his own behalf it must be acknowledged that he did love the girl, as well perhaps as he was capable of loving anyone; — but he had found out many particulars as to Mr Wharton’s money before he had allowed himself to love her.

As soon as Mrs Roby had gathered up her knitting, and declared, as she always did on such occasions, that she could go round the corner without having anyone to look after her. Mr Wharton began, ‘Emily, my dear, come here.’ Then she came and sat on a footstool at his feet, and looked up into his face. ‘Do you know what I am going to speak about, my darling?’

‘Yes, papa; I think I do. It is about — Mr Lopez.’

‘Your aunt has told you, I suppose. Yes, it is about Mr Lopez. I have been very much astonished today by Mr Lopez — a man of whom I have seen very little and know less. He came to me today and asked for my permission — to address you.’ She sat perfectly quiet, still looking at him, but did not say a word. ‘Of course I did not give my permission.’

‘Why of course, papa?’

‘Because he is a stranger and a foreigner. Would you have wished me to tell him that he might come?’

‘Yes, papa.’ He was sitting on a sofa and shrank back a little from her as she made this free avowal. ‘In that case I could have judged for myself. I suppose every girl would like to do that.’

‘But should you have accepted him?’

‘I think I should have consulted you before I did that. But I should have wished to accept him. Papa, I do love him. I have never said that before to anyone. I would not say so to you now, if he had not — spoken to you as he has done.’

‘Emily, it must not be.’

‘Why not, papa? If you say it shall not be so, it shall not, I will do as you bid me.’ Then he put out his hand and caressed her, stroking down her hair. ‘But I think you ought to tell me why it must not be — as I do love him.’

‘He is a foreigner.’

‘But is he? And why should not a foreigner be as good as an Englishman? His name is foreign, but he talks English and lives as an Englishman.’

‘He has no relatives, no family, no belongings. He is what we call an adventurer. Marriage, my dear, is a most serious thing.’

‘Yes, papa, I know that.’

‘One is bound to be very careful. How can I give you to a man I know nothing about — an adventurer? What would they say in Hertfordshire?’

‘I don’t know why they should say anything, but if they did I shouldn’t much care.’

‘I should, my dear. I should care very much. One is bound to think of one’s family. Suppose it should turn out afterwards that he was — disreputable?’

‘You may say that of any man, papa.’

‘But when a man has connections, a father and a mother, or uncles and aunts, people that everybody knows about, then there is some guarantee of security. Did you ever hear this man speak of his father?’

‘I don’t know that he ever did.’

‘Or his mother — or his family? Don’t you think that is suspicious?’

‘I will ask him, papa, if you wish.’

‘No. I would have you ask him nothing. I would not wish that there should be an opportunity for such asking. If there has been intimacy between you, such information should have come naturally — as a thing of course. You have made him no promise?’

‘Oh no, papa.’

‘Nor spoken to him — of your regard for him?’

‘Never; — not a word. Nor to me — except in such words as one understands even though they say nothing.’

‘I wish he had never seen you.’

‘Is he a bad man, papa?’

‘Who knows? I cannot tell. He may be ever so bad. How is one to know whether a man be bad or good when one knows nothing about him?’ At this point the father got up and walked about the room. ‘The long and the short of it is that you must not see him any more.’

‘Did you tell him so?’

‘Yes; — well; I don’t know whether I said exactly that, but I told him that the whole thing must come to an end. And it must. Luckily it seems that nothing has been said on either side.’

‘But papa; — is there to be no reason?’

‘Haven’t I given reasons? I will not have my daughter encourage an adventurer — a man of whom nobody knows anything. That is reason sufficient.’

‘He has a business, and lives with gentlemen. He is Everett’s friend. He is well educated; — oh, so much better than most men that one meets. And he is clever. Papa, I wish you knew him better than you do.’

‘I do not want to know him better.’

‘Is not that prejudice, papa?’

‘My dear Emily,’ said Mr Wharton, striving to wax into anger that he might be firm against her. ‘I don’t think it becomes you to ask your father such a question as that. You ought to believe that it is the chief object of my life to do the best I can for my children.’

‘I am sure it is.’

‘And you ought to feel that, as I have had a long experience in the world, my judgement about a young man might be trusted.’

That was a statement which Miss Wharton was not prepared to admit. She had already professed herself willing to submit to her father’s judgement, and did not now by any means contemplate rebellion against parental authority. But she did feel that on a matter so vital to her she had a right to plead her cause before judgement should be given, and she was not slow to assure herself, even as this interview went on, that her love for the man was strong enough to entitle her to assure her father that her happiness depended on his reversal of the sentence already pronounced. ‘You know, papa, that I trust you,’ she said, ‘And I have promised you that I will not disobey you. If you tell me that I am never to see Mr Lopez again, I will not see him.’

‘You are a good girl. You were always a good girl.’

‘But I think that you ought to hear me.’ Then he stood still with his hands in his trouser pockets looking at her. He did not want to hear a word, but he felt that he would be a tyrant if he refused. ‘If you tell me that I am not to see him, I shall not see him. But I shall be very unhappy. I do love him, and I shall never love anyone else in the same way.’

‘That is nonsense, Emily. There is Arthur Fletcher.’

‘I am sure you will never ask me to marry a man I do not love, and I shall never love Arthur Fletcher. If this is to be as you say, it will make me very, very wretched. It is right that you should know the truth. If it is only because Mr Lopez has a foreign name —’

‘It isn’t only that; no one knows anything about him, or where one might inquire even.’

‘I think you should inquire, papa, and be quite certain before you pronounce such a sentence against me. It will be a crushing blow.’ He looked at her, and saw that there was a fixed purpose in her countenance of which he had never before seen similar signs. ‘You claim a right to my obedience, and I acknowledge it. I am sure you believe me when I promise not to see him without your permission.’

‘I do believe you. Of course I believe you.’

‘But if I do that for you, papa, I think that you ought to be very sure, on my account, that I haven’t to bear such unhappiness for nothing. You’ll think about it, papa — will you not, before you quite decide?’ She leaned against him as she spoke, and he kissed her. ‘Good night, now, papa. You will think about it?’

‘I will. I will. Of course I will.’

And he began the process of thinking about it immediately — before the door was closed behind her. But what was there to think about? Nothing that she had said altered in the least his idea about the man. He was convinced as ever that unless there was much to conceal there would not be so much concealment. But a feeling began to grow upon him already that his daughter had a mode of pleading with him which he would not ultimately be able to resist. He had the power, he knew, of putting an end to the thing altogether. He had only to say resolutely and unchangeably that the thing shouldn’t be, and it wouldn’t. If he could steel his heart against his daughter’s sorrow for, say, a twelvemonth, the victory would be won. But he already began to fear that he lacked the power to steel his heart against his daughter.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43